Workshop 4

From regime shifts to novel systems – evaluating the social-ecological implications of lasting ecosystem changes for resource management

Regime shifts, involving large-scale and abrupt changes in ecosystem structure and function, have been observed in many marine ecosystems. A major question regarding regime shifts is whether alternative stable states, that would render recovery to the original state difficult or even impossible, exist in real ecosystems. In line with regime shift theory, the novel ecosystem concept states the potential of non-recovery of ecosystems to the original state [even after the human impact has ceased to exist]. However, while regime shift theory often emphasizes the potential for recovery to the original state, the novel ecosystem concept focuses on the implications of accepting the new state and explores the consequences for management.


Marine regime shifts are well described and many have been recorded over the past four decades (with a peak in the late 1980s/early 1990s). However, the recent development of changed marine ecosystems (i.e. the post-regime phase) is poorly documented and explored with respect to recovery towards the original state or development of a new, unanticipated configuration. Increased knowledge of post-regime shift developments of marine systems is needed to design future ecosystem-based management strategies, including components of early warning, mitigation, and manipulation.

The workshop will focus on the post-regime shift development of marine ecosystems and explore the following questions:

  1. Are regeneration and/or recovery paths evident following the last observed regime shifts? Are these recovery paths typified by any particular socio-economic or management characteristics?
  2. Are there strong indications for the existence of alternate stable states?
  3. Are there indications that novel ecosystems will develop? Are there any generalised socio-economic indicators that preceed novel ecosystems?
  4. What are the potential implications of alternate stable states or novel systems for ecosystem-based management? What are the potential human costs and benefits of novel systems?

We invite contributions on both the social and ecological (and their coupled) consequences of marine regime shifts with a focus on post-regime shift development. Studies should explore the existence and functional form of regeneration and/or recovery paths, indications of the existence of alternate stable states and novel ecosystem characteristics, and their implications for ecosystem-based management strategies both from an ecological and socio-economic point of view. The workshop aims to promote awareness of accounting for new or novel ecosystem regimes in resource management. It will elucidate the importance of social-ecological coupling for marine ecosystem dynamics and hence ecosystem-based management approaches. Last, but not least, we welcome contributions that show how ecologists and social scientists can cooperate to tackle this important topic in marine science. A synthesis paper of the discussions and views of regime shifts from the workshop will be prepared.

Worshop 4 Conveners

  • Thorsten Blenckner (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden)
  • Christian Möllmann (University of Hamburg, Germany)
  • Ingrid van Putten (CSIRO and University of Tasmania, Australia)
  • Martin Quaas (Kiel University, Germany)
  • Rebecca Martone (Stanford University, USA)
  • Alessandra Conversi (Institute of Marine Sciences/National Research Council, Italy)

Keynote speaker

  • Scott Ling  (University of Tasmania, Australia)